Beginning last week, the nation has been getting a lesson, actually, two, on the very real existence of domestic enemies of the Constitution, the very Constitution which all public office holders are sworn to uphold. One occasion was peaceful, the other violent. The first centered on Congress, the second on a Member of Congress.
More about Congress below. Americans are no strangers to the phenomenon of political assassination. Long before the attempt on the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the successful murder of U.S. federal district Judge John Roll and the congresswoman's staffer, not to mention the killing of at least four other people and the wounding of another 18, our nation has agonized over the murder of four presidents and several attempts on others. What is telling is how our leading citizens react to it these days.
Oh, yes, that peaceful assault on the Constitution — hardly the first — was made on when the new Republican House of Representatives took the seemingly bold step of reading our nation's founding document in full. While most Americans either applauded this action, or at least raised no objections to it, the usual liberal or progressive suspects were amused, puzzled and even outraged. And while they were at it, they revealed how ignorant they were, of more than the Constitution.
What could be wrong with reading the Constitution, not to mention Congress members pledging to cite its relevant sections whenever they introduce legislation? According to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, the document is "over 100 years old" and "it means different things to different people." That remark if taken seriously, suggests that the only intelligent thing for us to do now is to ignore the Constitution.
Not a few people believe that that is precisely what too many of our leaders have been doing since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, if not since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, enshrined the idea that government exists to run people's lives instead of securing their liberties. The Constitution is no obstacle whatsoever, they believe, to doing whatever a majority of Congress and most presidents think the government should do.
Klein went to say that "The Constitution has no binding power on anything." That's why it can safely be ignored, what with the need for government health care, fighting global warming, bailing out favored businesses, and redistributing income. That was the point of E.J. Dionne, a Post colleague, who made the salient observation that "The Founders never conceived of Facebook, either."
At about the same time that liberals were writing off the Constitution as irrelevant to the modern era, they were writing off their political opposition as extremist and violent — as they continue to do today. It was only 15 years ago that President Bill Clinton connected the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building to overheated right-wing rhetoric, as talk radio had been liberated from the shackles of the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine" imposed by the Federal Communications Commission at about the same time as the first example of liberals' linking assassinations to allegedly violent right wingers.
The template for understanding assassinations was cast in 1963, when liberals went to the media to denounce the killing of President John F. Kennedy as the work of ultraconservatives. It may perhaps have been embarrassing, but I doubt it, that the killer turned out to be a professed Marxist. That was Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine, who renounced his U.S. citizenship, moved to the Soviet Union, and married a Russian woman. So it is not surprising that the assault on conservatives happened again after the 1995 bombing and, sad to say, again after the Arizona massacre.
This is, pure and simple, yet another assault on the Constitution, you know, that part that reads, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble for a redress of grievances."
In fact, the same two black Congressmen who lied about the Tea Partiers' protest of Obama Care as it neared passage, who allegedly called the lawmakers the "N"-word as they walked through the crowd, are now saying that right-wing vitriol somehow fed the passions of the current assassin.
It is time to affirm that all Americans should stand behind their Constitution, both the part that enables them to choose their representatives and hold them accountable, and the part that secures their right to speak, print, broadcast or assemble whenever necessary. We owe that to Rep. Giffords, and all other victims of senseless violence.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.